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Dimensions of Going for Refuge

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by Sangharakshita

Lecture 154: Dimensions of Going for Refuge

Urgyen Sangharakshita [Giv en o n the 198 2 O rdina tion C ours e at Il C onv ento di Sa nta C roce , Batig nan o, Tusca ny, Ita ly. The talk is based on a lecture which was given at Theosophy Hall, Bombay, India, in December 1981] [Transcriber's note: this talk was recorded on fairly primitive equipment in a stone room in Tuscany which has made it difficult for me to hear and transcribe every word with complete certainty, I hope th at an y po ssible o missio ns in th e tran script d o no t interru pt yo ur stud y.] Everybody knows that not so very many months ago I was in India, and I think also everybody's aware that while I was in India, I was giving quite a number of talks, quite a number of public lectures. In fact that was my principal occupation for most of the time that I was there. Most of these talks were given to audiences of ex-untouchable Indian Buddhists. Sometimes there were five or six hundred of them present; sometimes five or six thousand sometimes even. Well once at least nine or ten thousand. Though I gave a few talks to other audiences. Smaller, in a way, more select or for less committed. And one of the groups of people that I addressed was a group of Theosophists in Bombay. These were very old friends of mine. They were a sort of breakaway branch of the main Theosophical movement which was centred at Pasadena(?). They are called the Theosophical Movement, or the United Lodge of Theosophists, and they had their headquarters in Bombay. And it was a wing of their organisation which was responsible for the original publication of `A Survey of Buddhism'. In fact it was they who invited me to give, in the Bangalore Institute of Culture, the lectures which subsequently I wrote up and wrote out as the Survey of Buddhism.

So every time I happen to be in Bombay, they invite me to talk. So, as it were, for old time's sake, I always give them a lecture, and some of them, I must say, some of their members, are very good old friends of mine indeed; especially the present head of the United Lodge of Theosophy is a lady of French stock called Madame Sophia Wadia, who is quite a famous lady in India. At present she (unclear) which is why she can't last very much longer, but she's always been a very good friend of mine, and we always meet whenever I'm in Bombay, and she asked me to give this talk, which I'm going to give tonight. I should explain myself that this is not a new talk that you're going to get. Only a couple of weeks ago I finished writing it out, editing this from the transcripts of the original lecture given in Bombay for publication in India in English and Marathi. I thought tonight I would read you my edited version of the transcript of that talk. For two reasons: First of all, it will give you an idea of the sort of thing I say to audiences of this sort in India. And also, of course, the topic is of very certain significance and relevance today.

So you will be in a rather odd situation, I'm afraid, during the next hour. That is to say you will be the audience but not the audience. In fact perhaps it would be just as well if you forget all about Il Convento for an hour or so; forget all about Italy; forget all about Europe, and imagine that you're in Bombay. In Bombay, sitting in Theosophy Hall with this very old friend of mine sitting in the front row in her long white sari, listening very attentively to what I was saying, and other rather elderly people who (unclear) gathered around this rather nice hall on a rather sultry evening in Bombay. Or if you like, if you want to add an extra touch of verisimillitude to the scene you can imagine that poor Bhante has got a very sore throat [Laughter] (unclear) when I gave this talk. So just imagine, there you are, sitting in Theosophy Hall. Seven o'clock in the evening. Yes, it's seven thirty here - seven o'clock in the evening. It's really sultry and you've come to hear me give this talk on Going for Refuge. So just imagine yourself, take yourself, there. (Unclear) So I begin in my usual way and I say.......

Madame Wadia and Friends, I cannot begin my talk this evening without saying how glad I am to be back in Bombay. [Laughter] (The Indians like to hear this sort of thing!) [Laughter] And in any case I was quite glad [Laughter]. I'd almost said glad to be back even in Bombay. With its problems of pollution and overpopulation Bombay, one has to admit, is in some respects not the most attractive of cities, but it has its compensations, and, for me, the place has a special appeal. My associations with the city go back to 1944, when I had my first glimpse of the Bombay docks from the deck of a British troopship. Thereafter, I often had occasion to visit Bombay, and with every visit became better acquainted with the place. Though living in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas amidst beautiful and inspiring scenery, I came to look forward to my Lecture 152: Dimensions of Going for Refuge Page 1 annual winter visit to Bombay, even though I was a little saddened each time to see how the once lovely city had deteriorated. The people, however, never deteriorated. Each time I came down, I received a warmer welcome than ever from my friends.

Not the least of my associations in Bombay was with Theosophy Hall, where I spoke on a number of occasions. In fact, I think I have hardly ever visited Bombay, even for a short period, without speaking here at least once or twice. Last time I spoke here was, I believe, in the Winter of 1966, when I addressed you on the subject of Tibetan Buddhist Meditation.

Tonight I am speaking to you again, and this time my subject is Going for Refuge. In Pali sarana- gamana, in Sanskrit sarana-gamana. I am happy to have been invited to speak on this topic since it is one which for many years has been very close to my heart. However, I am going to approach it indirectly, via my experience of living and working for Buddhism in England. As some of you know, for twelve or thirteen years, my face was not seen in Bombay, or indeed in India. During that period I was busy with the creation and consolidation of an entirely new Buddhist movement in the West, beginning with England, and it is via my experience of that new Buddhist movement that I am going to approach the subject of Going for Refuge tonight.

At the various urban centres of this new Buddhist movement (known in England as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, and in India as the Trailokya Bauddha Mahasangha Sahayak Gana), we conduct a wide range of activities. These include lectures on Buddhism, as well as on literature and the fine arts; meditation classes, Hatha Yoga classes; and courses in human communication. From time to time day retreats are held. The latter involve spending the whole day at the centre engaged in meditation, study, discussion and human communication.

People come to hear about our activities in various ways. Some hear about them through our publicity, but more often they hear about them simply by word of mouth. One friend tells another that there is a place where you can meditate, or where you can learn about Buddhism, or practise Hatha Yoga. By one means or another people make contact with the local FWBO centre, and thus with our new Buddhist movement.

At first they may be interested simply in meditation, or Buddhist philosophy, or Hatha Yoga, and come to us just for that. Anyway, they start coming. Probably you know that nowadays in England, as in most Western countries, there are thousands of people who are engaged in `sampling' all kinds of spiritual groups. They go along to one group for a while, then to another and so on. In this way they sample quite a number of groups. Some of the people who come to us are of this type. They come to us for a time, then leave to continue their search elsewhere. Some of them, however, remain with us because they like our approach and feel at home with us. They stay and get more deeply involved in our activities. One day it dawns on them that they would like to identify themselves with us and, in a word, `belong'. When they reach that point they can become what we call a Mitra, which is simply the Sanskrit word for friend.

Here I should perhaps explain that in our new Buddhist movement, the FWBO or TBMSG, we have no membership in the ordinary sense. You cannot join simply by filling in a form and paying a subscription. In place of this system we have a different system, and it is this, in fact, which I am in the process of describing. When you reach the point of wanting to `belong' to the FWBO and become a Mitra, you make your wishes known and, if your desire is genuine, and you have a real interest in the work of the FWBO, a simple public ceremony is held at which you offer flowers, a lighted candle and a stick of incense before an image of the Buddha. In this way you become a Mitra. Until then you have been a Friend with a capital `F'. We have these categories, so to speak, of `nonmember' membership. Anybody who comes along and participates in any of our activities to however small an extent, is regarded as a Friend. You don*t have to `join' in any formal sense and you are free to derive whatever benefit you can from the activities without incurring any obligation or responsibility. We are quite happy for you to do this. If you want to become more deeply involved, however, then you become a Mitra in the manner I have described.

The fact that you have become a Mitra means that your search for a spiritual group to which you can belong has now ended, and that henceforth your time, energy and interest will be devoted exclusively to the FWBO. A Mitra is expected: (1) To attend their local FWBO centre regularly and ...

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